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March 2022 Meeting Report

Cambridge Museum of Technology, by John Flood

On 10 March we had a talk by John Flood from the Cambridge Museum of Technology, entitled “Cleaning Up Cambridge”.

In the early 1800’s no-one was responsible for cleaning or clearing anything from the streets. When Queen Victoria visited Cambridge (Trinity College) in 1843 she commented on the sheets of paper floating in the Cam. The Cam was an open sewer. In 1848 a Local Board of Health was set up followed by the Local Government Act in 1858. This made local government responsible for the clearing and cleaning of waste.

Thomas Newcomen 1664-1729 invented the atmospheric engine for using steam to pump water, but it was not until 1894 that a pumping station was installed at Cheddar Lane in Cambridge (this is now the Cambridge Museum of Technology - which is now open at weekends). Pumping engines were heated by the burning of waste collected around the city. They pumped sewage from the Cambridge sewers to the newly established sewage works at Milton, instead of it being discharged into the Cam. 

Other aspects of cleaning up Cambridge included the building of Hobson’s Conduit in 1614 to bring fresh, clean, water from Nine Wells to the City Centre. The vast amount of waste caused by horse-drawn traffic was manually shoveled from the Cambridge streets and used for fertiliser. Cambridge Water Company was founded in 1853 to serve Cambridge and the surrounding area. However, even after the second world war, there were many houses without a bathroom. Fortunately, on the corner of Gwydir Street there was a bath-house from 1927 to 1980.

Tony Moss

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